Lead attorney and others intend to leave Rod Blagojevich’s defense team for upcoming retrial

By Michael Tarm, AP
Thursday, September 30, 2010

Lead attorney intends to leave Blagojevich defense

CHICAGO — Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s lead attorney is asking a judge to release him from the defense team ahead of Blagojevich’s retrial on corruption charges, according to a Thursday court filing.

Sam Adam Jr., who delivered a sometimes theatrical opening and closing at Blagojevich’s first trial, will officially ask to withdraw from the case at a Friday hearing, said another Blagojevich attorney, Sheldon Sorosky. U.S. District Judge James Zagel has the final say in whether Adam can leave.

A nearly $3 million fund Blagojevich drew on at his first trial to pay his team of more than a dozen attorneys has run dry. Now that taxpayers must foot the bill for Blagojevich’s defense, Zagel has said he’ll only allow the impeached governor to have two attorneys.

That, plus pressure on Blagojevich attorneys to represent clients in other cases, led the to the decision to try and withdraw, Sorosky said. Adam’s father, Sam Adam Sr., and attorney Michael Gillespie also will ask to leave before the January retrial, though Gillespie could serve as a paralegaal, Sorosky said.

“Everybody would like to stay, but it wasn’t possible,” Sorosky said.

Jurors in August convicted Blagojevich of lying to the FBI but were unable to agree on 23 other counts. Among the deadlocked counts he’ll be retried on is the allegation he tried to sell or trade the appointment to President Barack Obama’s former Senate seat.

If the judge agrees to let the others go, that would leave Sorosky and Aaron Goldstein as the primary attorneys.

Sorosky is a Blagojevich family friend who appeared with him in court the day agents arrested the then-governor in 2008. The younger Goldstein cross-examined several key prosecution witnesses during the first trial.

In Thursday’s filing, Adam Jr. and Adam Sr. said they could continue to advise Blagojevich and assist with trial strategy. Both attorneys, the filing said, “remain constant in their advocacy of former Gov. Blagojevich’s innocence.”

A later statement from Blagojevich spokesman Glenn Selig also pointed to money as the main reason for their departures.

“Financial realities make it impossible for the Adams to continue as lead attorneys,” Selig said.

A message seeking comment was left at the Adams’ law office.

Adam Jr., 38, made his name at Chicago’s gritty Criminal Courts Building, where his closing arguments once helped acquit R&B singer R. Kelly on child pornography charges. In the more staid federal court, his theatrics sharply contrasted prosecutors cool, just-the-facts style.

During Blagojevich’s trial, he explained his objective is to both tell a story and put on a show — as a way to win jurors over. But he often clashed with the stern Zagel, who once threatened to hold Adam in contempt.

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